19th February 1971 – 17th January 2021
“A great bloke taken too soon.”
On Sunday 17th January, the South Yorkshire Ability Counts League lost one of its father figures, Secretary Darren Warner. He was just 49 years old, the founder of Club Doncaster Titans and a genuine champion for footballers living with disabilities.
Darren’s funeral was held on Saturday 30th of January 11.00am at Rose Hill Crematorium, Cantley Lane, Doncaster. DN4 6NE Due to COVID-19 restrictions the service indoors had to be limited in numbers, by invite only; a revision to severe lockdown restrictions also meant that the service could not be broadcast outside.
Darren’s funeral cortege passed the Keepmoat Stadium at 10.10am for those wishing to pay Darren their farewell respects.
Whatever, wherever, Darren would be there, supporting the players from every team, not just his own.
The last time many of the SYACL participants will have seen Darren was at Matchday Two of the 5-a-side League at Goals Sheffield back on December 13th, a cold and wet day, but as always, Darren-armed with his portable oxygen bottle was at the side of the pitch shouting encouragement to the Titans players. He was struggling, but it would be a brave man who would try to stop Darren from showing up on League match days.
Of course, that Sunday was the day where the SYACL came together to pay tribute to Ash Prendergast, another popular League member taken too soon. Little did any of us realise that we would be receiving more tragic news so early in 2021.
Darren’s wife, Sharon, has told us how she has been taken aback by the reaction to Darren’s death – a genuine torrent of tributes and a massive outpouring of sadness at the loss of this great man.
SYACL Chairman and long-time friend Mike Stylianou told us “Darren was admired and respected by all involved in disability football. He was deeply passionate about offering opportunities to many disabled people and creating opportunities so that they could participate in football, regardless of ability, gender, or age. Darren acted as a coach and manager to his beloved Titans, a league treasurer & secretary for the Ability Counts League, the Junior disabled League and also the Flourish League, for people with mental health issues. His tireless and selfless commitment towards disability football was rightfully recognised by the BBC, with an award at regional level and further recognition at a national level”.
“Despite his own health concerns Darren would always ensure all others around him were cared for, especially the players and he considered their needs more important than his own,” Mike added. “We will all miss him dearly, cherish the time we had with him, continually admire him as an outstanding individual and always remember the fantastic contributions and positive differences he made to so many around him.”
“Our thoughts are with his family, close friends and all at Club Doncaster Titans Academy.”
Darren’s close friend, Dannyl Hall, has set up a GoFundMe appeal to help Darren’s wife and family. The appeal had already reached over £1400 at the time of writing; you can donate by visiting https://uk.gofundme.com/f/darren-warner-rip
“What an absolute epitome of a legend and a hero to so many people,” Dannyl said. “A true father figure to each and every person at the Titans and the people he helped play the game. I’ve only had the great pleasure to know Darren Warner for 6 years but the impact he’s had on me as a person – and football wise – has been thoroughly appreciated. As we’ve always said – and as Daz has always made sure we all know – we are one big family.”
“I’ve personally taken this news very hard and I can only imagine how hard each of you is taking it, but that in itself is a credit to the man himself,” Dannyl added. “Such a positive impact on a wide variety of individuals in our own ways, the memories we have of Daz and the experience we’ve all shared with him will all vary, but ultimately underlines the legend that he is. If anyone wants or needs a shoulder, I’ll be here lads.”
“Please all take care, much love to you all,” Dannyl concluded “Love to the Warners. Rest easy Gaffer – you will live on through each and every one of us in your own way.
A true legend to so many.
Doncaster Rovers FC paid a glowing tribute to Darren on the club website and paid a minute’s respect to him before their game with Rochdale on Tuesday, 19th. Rovers wore black armbands during the game, and it’s fair to say that Darren would have been delighted with Donny’s home win that evening.
The club website recorded, “Everyone at Doncaster Rovers, Club Doncaster Foundation and the wider Club Doncaster family were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Club Doncaster Titans’ founder Darren Warner after a long illness.”
Darren was an exceptional man who did so much for the local community and, through his work with the Titans, brought football to hundreds of people across Doncaster who may never have had the chance to enjoy the sport without him.
View the minutes applause at the start of the game: –
The Titans were founded so that Darren’s son Jordan, who has Autism, would have the same opportunities to play football as his other son Cameron; it also gave all girls and boys with any physical or mental disability a safe place to play football. The popularity of the Titans grew and grew, and now ensures that every child and adult with a disability or mental health condition has a safe space to play football.
In 2019, Darren’s incredible achievements with the Titans were recognised when he won the Unsung Hero award for the BBC Yorkshire region. He was invited to Aberdeen to appear on stage at the main televised awards evening but narrowly lost out on the main award. Darren worked tirelessly to make the Titans what is and never asked for anything in return – when Doncaster Rovers tried to surprise him in 2019 with a gift just for him, he asked if it could be something for the Titans! He leaves an incredible legacy behind and he will be sorely missed by everyone who came into contact with him.
The thoughts of everyone at Club Doncaster are with Darren’s friends and family at this incredibly difficult time.
“We will all, always and forever be #TeamTitans.”
The referees secretary for the Ability Counts League, Sean Wright has known Darren for a number of years; Darren was a great person to know and he always made time to chat to people. I will miss him like we all will; he did so much for disability football and he enriched a lot of peoples lives. I would just like to pass on my condolences to Sharon and the family on the very sad loss of Darren.
The teams he managed were always a pleasure to referee.
Until recently, Sam Firth had been Disability Football Development Officer at Sheffield and Hallamshire Football Association. He worked with Darren and Mike at the SYACL and had been a good friend to both. Sam told www.southyorkshireabilitycountsleague.com ‘This is really difficult to write: with Daz it’s really difficult to find the right words that would do him justice. Daz inspired so many people around him with his tireless work ethic and his passion for inclusive football.”
Sam continued, “It’s a difficult moment for everyone around him and it’s okay to feel sadness as I’m sure we’ve all lost someone we cared a great deal about and respected. However, I think everyone around Daz will find comfort in the legacy he has left. I’m sure the work he has done in Doncaster will continue to benefit future generations to come.”
“I for one will never forget Darren Warner. RIP Daz.”
City Knights FC Chairman, Micky Allen acknowledged the massive contribution Darren made to the lives of so many footballers. He admitted, “Darren Warner’s are very hard to come by in the footballing world.”
“He will always be the life and soul of Doncaster Titans Football Club.” Micky continued, “He would always put his players and their welfare first and truly lived the values of being a family club. He was an ambitious Manager and Chairman and was a beacon of hope for not only his players, but for everyone involved in Disability Football.”
Together, Daz and his amazing supportive wife Sharon, put their hearts and souls into everything they did at Doncaster Titans and Daz gave all his time to both Doncaster Titans and the South Yorkshire Ability Counts League,” Micky added. “Daz will always be that happy, funny Manager that would never fail to make you laugh and he was a true passionate footballing champion leaving a huge and successful legacy behind.”
“Football has lost one of its greats; we know that you’ll be up there watching over your family and every single Titans’ player too – an unparalleled Manager and Chairman.”
“He leaves too soon, but leaves a legacy without limits and a void that will never be filled – RIP Daz.”
City Knights Secretary and Manager Sharon Lavender echoed the thoughts of her Chairman, telling us, “it was an honour and privilege to know Darren; he did a lot for others and put them first. He was an amazing, caring, thoughtful guy, and a true ambassador for disability football. City Knights FC thank him for all the support he gave us, we will miss him loads.”
“We all send our deepest condolences to Sharon and her family x”
James Scally, Manager at Aston Swallownest, will never forget the support he received from Darren when he was getting started in football. “I want to thank Darren Warner from myself and our club, Aston Swallownest FC.” James recalls, ” Darren helped me a lot when I first started, giving me advice, and if I needed a hand, he was only a call away. Giving up his time in helping other teams made him such a special man.”
James added, “if anyone needs a hand at Doncaster Titans, I’m only a message away and more than happy to help out.”
Paul Jubb and Jaimie Dorward from Bradford City Disability FC sent their own special tribute.
“Darren Warner was a wonderful man who had time for everybody, and his life blessed many by the way he chose to live it. Our hearts go out to his wife Sharon, his family and all at Doncaster Titans.”
“All our love from Paul, Jaimie & everyone at Bradford City Disability FC”. XX
“His loss will be felt, but he has left a mark in the world which will not be forgotten.”
From Sheffield FC Disability, Scott Gregory also remembers Darren’s support and advice.
“Ever since I started looking after the adult disability team at Sheffield FC, I’ve always seen Darren as someone to look up to,” Scott told SYACL.com “He’s always been there for both our adult and junior setups and always willing to give opinion and ideas. It’s a great loss for his family and the wider Titans family.”
“Everyone at Sheffield FC will commit to continuing to ensure Darren’s legacy continues in South Yorkshire,” Scott added.
“Another great bloke taken way too early”.
Darren Sharp, from Spartans FC, acknowledged the depth and breadth of Darren’s contribution to the League and its clubs.
“Spartans FC will remember Darren for his tremendous enthusiasm, passion and support to all those involved in disability football and his constant encouragement to our players,” Darren explained. “He was kind, warm hearted and generous with his time and efforts to all the clubs in our League. Spartans FC members will all miss him very much, have great memories of him and always consider him as a great friend of our club, especially to our players.”
“Our thoughts are with Sharon, Jordan and Cameron and all his family.”
Doncaster Deaf Trust shared another moving tribute.”
Darren was an integral part and a driving force of the League for many years. His passion for the game was ever present. He was a true sportsman and gentleman. He ensured not only the best for his teams in the way of development and opportunities but for oppositions teams too.
Dawn Wood from Derek Dooley FC told www.syacl.com Everyone connected with Derek Dooley FC are upset to hear the sad news about Darren Warner. He was a great friend to our club, and we feel blessed to have known him. All the players and their families admired him; his help, support and advice were invaluable to us all.”
Derek Dooley team member Brad Revitt has fond memories of Darren. “Darren was a nice bloke; he always gave me advice on how to become a good player and I respected him for that,” Brad recalled. I will miss talking to him after the matches; he was a funny guy who always made us smile.”
“We really appreciate all Darren’s hard work and knowledge,” Dawn added. “It was a privilege to know him and learn from him. We will miss his friendship and guidance; he is a true legend and a hero to many.”
“Darren built special relationships with all the clubs in the Ability Counts League; he wanted everyone to play football and have fun. He was a wonderful person and made a massive difference to the lives of hundreds of players. He provided them with so many opportunities to play football and he had a massive impact on so many lives.”
“Darren – the magnificent, funny, awesome Liverpool fan – was an incredibly special man who will never be forgotten at Derek Dooley FC.”
From Wheatley Wanderers AFC, Chris Pow will never forget the support and guidance he received from Darren. “I remember the first time I met Darren,” Chris reflected. “He seemed like an honest, conscientious guy and I had a lot of time for him. I was already meeting up with my mates for a kick about and going to the odd tournament, but Darren helped me with advice and support to become the coach I am now. He was a real role model to me.”
“It is inspirational that he set up Doncaster Titans to help get disabled players into football, and the Ability Counts League will miss his calm, assured presence.”
“My thoughts go out to Sharon, Jordan and Cameron at this most difficult of times,” Chris concluded. “He has been taken too soon, and we will all miss him dearly. I’ll miss his support, his honesty, and his sense of humour.”
“Rest in peace Darren.”
Claire Hobson and her Social Eyes team joined three seasons ago but recalls the help Darren provided in those early days. “Darren was an absolutely tremendous guy, with an amazing can-do attitude that impacted on me on our very first meeting. The time and dedication he gave to others was beyond applaudable. He was a gentleman that I knew for only short period of time, but he was a gentleman that will be remembered fondly for a very long time.”
“Thank you sincerely Darren for the belief, support & encouragement you gave to Social Eyes Day Services. RIP
Mark Ansell, Senior Journalist reporter @ BBCLookNorth
So sad to hear of Darren’s death, such a lovely man. He made a huge difference to young people who were or felt excluded by mainstream football clubs. The people I interviewed couldn’t speak more highly of him. I was chuffed to have had the chance to film with him for his award.
“Such sad news. Darren was a top bloke who we were lucky to meet several times. His enthusiasm for the game was phenomenal.”
Disability Football Foundation
“So sorry to hear of Darren’s passing… the work that he has done to improve disability football will always be remembered.”
“A great man who played such a huge part in disability sport and football in Doncaster, he will definitely be missed.”
Sam Dawson – Brunsmeer Awareness FC.
All at Brunsmeer Awareness were saddened to hear the heart-breaking news about Darren. He was a great help to us when we were starting out and always had time for everybody. His passion and hard work in providing opportunities for people living with mental health issues to enjoy playing football was truly inspiring. He will be sadly missed by all who were lucky enough to have known him.
Brunsmeer Awareness FC player, Richard Brown
“My memories of Darren Warner are all good memories; he was always very supportive towards anyone, especially his beloved Titans; always had a smile on his face. RIP Darren”
“He will be missed tremendously by all. Our thoughts are with his family and club members at this saddest of times.”
SYACL Chairman Mike Stylianou promised that there would be a proper celebration of Darren’s life when the current Covid-19 restrictions ease.
“No doubt that we will honour and celebrate Darren’s life together in the future.”
“It is extremely sad and tragic. I’m sure you’ll all be as heartbroken as I am and hope you all stay safe and well.”
If you have a tribute or memory you’d like to share, please tag @SYACL and @clubDTitans on Twitter, or leave a comment on our website @ www.southyorkshireabilitycountsleague.com
We will continue to add all your tributes as they arrive.
Sleep peacefully Darren, a job well done.
And finally a video from Andrew Whitaker absolutely amazing m8 tribute to our manager who was recently been taken away from us